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A 'Journey' that dawdles, leaves you a little empty

| Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

The culinary culture-clash comedy “The Hundred-Foot Journey” dawdles, like a meal that drags on and on because the waiter is too busy texting to bother bringing you the check.

Based on the Richard Morais novel, it's a low-flame romance and low-heat feud about a family of Indian restaurateurs who set up their spicy, gaudy and noisy eatery across the road from a posh establishment in rural France.

Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat”) directs; Helen Mirren (“The Queen”) is the imperious, snooty French restaurant's owner; and the young leads — Manish Dayal as the aspiring Indian chef, Charlotte Le Bon as the winsome French one — are charming.

How did this smorgasbord turn out so bland?

It begins with promise. Hassan (Dayal) learns to cook from his mother at their family restaurant in Mumbai.

Violence in India kills the mother and sends her brood — led by Papa (Om Puri) — first to Britain, then to France, where the locals don't know Indian food. Why would they? They have French cuisine, the world's finest.

A road accident forces Papa and his five kids to take a closer look at a charming village in the south of France, and Papa is drawn to an empty restaurant.

The huffy Madame Mallory (Mirren) provokes him into sealing the deal. Maison Mumbai opens, a flurry of curries and riot of color and noisy Indian music, right across the road from Madame Mallory's long-established, one-star, fine-dining institution.

Hassan tries to impress her, she's not having it. He tries to make peace; she won't have it.

When the newcomers go to the market for fresh fruits, meats and vegetables, Madame Mallory has already bought everything up (she got a look at their menu). “War is war!” Papa declares, a fight that escalates around the ears of the town mayor, a gastronome who only wants to enjoy that next meal.

Meanwhile, Hassan is discovering French culinary tradition through the books lent him by the pretty sous chef at Madame Mallory's place (Le Bon), and discovering love in her eyes. It's a pity they work for sworn enemies.

The novel this is based on follows Hassan's journey. Dayal and his character aren't charismatic enough to carry the picture, so Hallstrom and his screenwriter focus on the fish-out-of-water elements of the tale, on the older character's “war” and the sparks they set off. When he abandons that to follow Hassan deeper into his career, the movie lurches to a halt.

This “Journey” seems to end several steps shy of completion, a bland romantic comedy where the actors don't show us their characters' love for each other or the food that supposedly is their reason for living. They merely talk a good game.

Roger Moore reviews movies for McClatchy News Service.

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